Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Environmental Health Indicators of Climate Change for the United States: Findings from the State Environmental Health Indicator Collaborative

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Environmental Health Indicators of Climate Change for the United States: Findings from the State Environmental Health Indicator Collaborative

Article excerpt

OBJECTIVE: To develop public health adaptation strategies and to project the impacts of climate change on human health, indicators of vulnerability and preparedness along with accurate surveillance data on climate-sensitive health outcomes are needed. We researched and developed environmental health indicators for inputs into human health vulnerability assessments for climate change and to propose public health preventative actions.

DATA SOURCES: We conducted a review of the scientific literature to identify outcomes and actions that were related to climate change. Data sources included governmental and nongovernmental agencies and the published literature.

DATA EXTRACTION: Sources were identified and assessed for completeness, usability, and accuracy. Priority was then given to identifying longitudinal data sets that were applicable at the state and community level.

Data SYNTHESIS: We present a list of surveillance indicators for practitioners and policy makers that include climate-sensitive health outcomes and environmental and vulnerability indicators, as well as mitigation, adaptation, and policy indicators of climate change.

CONCLUSIONS: A review of environmental health indicators for climate change shows that data exist for many of these measures, but more evaluation of their sensitivity and usefulness is needed. Further attention is necessary to increase data quality and availability and to develop new surveillance databases, especially for climate-sensitive morbidity.

KEY WORDS: adaptation, air quality, climate change, environmental health, heat, indicators, vulnerability. Environ Health Perspect 117:1673-1681 (2009). doi:10.1289/ehp.0900708 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 18 May 2009]

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that changes in temperature, precipitation, and other weather variables due to climate change "are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, particularly those with low adaptive capacity" (IPCC 2007) and stated that they had "very high confidence" that climate change is "currently contributing to the global burden of disease and premature deaths" (Confalonieri et al. 2007). In the United States, individual states have become the leaders in establishing carbon dioxide mitigation policies and adaptive public health programs because the establishment of a coherent U.S. mitigation policy has stalled. An example of current statewide efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases (GHGs) is the notable California legislation AB32, which mandates that greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020 and decreased another 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (State of California, 2006). Other states are now following California's lead.

Unfortunately, because of previous substantial emissions, even the most optimistic reduction scenarios project that over the next few decades substantial increases in temperature and other weather changes will occur that will have large impacts on public health. For example, climate models predict that the world is expected to warm 0.5-1.0[degrees]C over the next several decades due to past emissions alone (Meehl et al. 2005; Wigley 2005). Under this scenario, increased focus on adaptive public health responses at the local level will be critical.

To develop public health adaptation strategies, evaluate their success, and project the impacts of climate change on human health, indicators of vulnerability and preparedness, along with accurate surveillance data (usually generated by state and federal environmental and health agencies) on climate-sensitive health outcomes, are urgently needed. These outcomes are important for assessing human health vulnerability to climate change (Ebi et al. 2006), for developing dose-response models (Diaz 2004), and for proposing public health preventative actions (Frumkin et al. 2008; Patz 2000). …

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